2. How to claim benefits

How to claim benefits

Claiming benefits can be a complex process. The various aspects are described below:

Qualifying for benefits

To qualify for any benefit, you will have to meet certain conditions. These vary according to the type of benefit. Some benefits depend on you having paid National insurance contributions over a period of time, some on the amount of your weekly income and savings, and some on the practical effects of a disability.

This section does not cover every available benefit. There are others you may be entitled to, depending on your situation, so always ask. Sometimes, getting one benefit may increase your entitlement to another and sometimes it may prevent you claiming another benefit, or reduce the amount you can claim. Again, if in doubt, always seek information and advice.

As a minimum, a person with dementia can usually claim Attendance allowance, Disability living allowance (care component) or the new Personal independence payment (the daily living component). Carers should check their entitlement to Carer's allowance.

Where to claim

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is responsible for administering the state pension and benefits. The system is organised so that:

  • benefits relating to people of working age are dealt with by Jobcentre Plus offices
  • the State pension and other benefits relating to people of state-pension age are dealt with by the Pension Service
  • disability benefits are dealt with by the Disability Benefits Centre
  • Carer's allowance is dealt with by the Carer's Allowance Unit
  • in addition, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) deal with benefits relating to children, as well as tax credits.

Who to ask for information and advice

There are a number of different ways of getting information and advice on benefits, as well as help filling in forms, which can be complicated. Choose the approach that is most convenient for you. You may need to be persistent to get what you need. It might be useful to contact some of the following sources of support:

  • A professional, such as a social worker or welfare rights adviser at the local authority, may be able to advise or at least point you in the right direction.
  • DWP provides information on the website about benefits and claim forms.
  • The Pension Service or local Jobcentre Plus office will have explanatory leaflets and claim forms. A home visit from the local visiting service may be available if necessary. You can find your local Pension Service or Jobcentre Plus branch in the business section of the phone book.
  • Other organisations, including your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) or advice centre, and a number of national telephone helplines, can give advice on the benefits you may be entitled to and how to claim them.

For full details, see 'Other useful organisations' at the end of this page.

Making a claim

You claim benefits either by filling in forms and sending them in the post, or by phoning a contact centre where an adviser will complete the form and send it to you to sign and return. Some benefits can be claimed by completing an online form on the website.

Do not delay making a claim just because you don't have all the information you need or the right form. Certain benefits can start on the day you first contact your social security office or other relevant office to say you want to claim the benefit, whether it is in person, by letter or by phone.

You will usually need to send in your claim form as soon as possible. If evidence is required, such as a letter from your doctor that you do not yet have, explain on the form that you will send it later. Some benefits can be backdated if you were eligible before you made the claim, however you will usually need to ask for this to happen.

Keeping records of your claim

When you are making a claim, it is easy to forget what information has been given, to whom and by whom. It helps if you can:

  • keep brief notes of the main points of any relevant conversation, who the conversation was with, and the date it took place
  • keep copies of any letters or forms you have sent and any you have received - you may need these if there are delays in sorting out your claim, or if your claim is refused and you want to challenge the decision
  • have all the relevant details to hand if you want to discuss your claim over the phone or in person.

Challenging a decision

Most people receive the benefits they are entitled to without a problem. However, if you believe your claim has been incorrectly turned down, or that you have not been awarded the right amount of benefit, you have the right to challenge the decision. Write to the office that made the decision and ask them to revise it. If they do not alter their decision, you may be able to apply to an independent appeal tribunal.

Challenging a decision can be complex, and seeking advice as soon as possible can really help. Ask your local CAB or advice centre, your local authority's welfare rights unit, or the Alzheimer's Society National Dementia Helpline.

Help for people not fluent in English

It is often difficult for people who are not fluent in English to know which benefits they can claim, and it is vital that they get appropriate assistance. Sources of support include:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)
  • social security offices and other relevant offices that have access to a telephone interpreting service, or have staff that can interpret or help to find a suitable interpreter (if you know of a suitable interpreter, ask if they will pay)
  • information leaflets that are translated into different languages (contact the relevant office to see what is available).